Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Grandmom's Beef Vegetable Barley Soup

Sadly, I did not know my Irish grandmother, but I knew and absolutely adored my Italian grandmother.  She was kind, gentle and wise…. just the way an Italian grandmother should be.  Plus, she always smelled good, like Jergens Original Scent lotion, and to this day, that smell reminds me of her.   She was also a very good cook and since my family lived with her, we were the lucky and frequent recipients of her simple but extraordinary cookery prowess.   

So many things remind me of her...stewed prunes, pepper and eggs, gravy and meatballs.  I could go on and on.  She used to make a beef vegetable barley soup that was so good. Seriously. So damn good.  We used to wait for hours for it to be ready….anticipating how the beef bits would just melt away in our mouths. When we finally sat down to eat, not a word was spoken...a rare occasion in our loud but loving house.  But, like many other instructions and stories -- that are often shamelessly embellished -- the recipe was never written down, so my mother, sister and I did our best to replicate it. 

We knew a few things for sure….we knew she used beef short ribs, a bag of frozen mixed vegetables, barley, maybe cabbage, and that the soup had a tomato base.  So with that information, and the help of various books and on-line resources, I cobbled together the following recipe.

Grandmom’s Beef Vegetable Barley Soup
By:  My Family

2 lbs. beef short ribs
1-2 Tablespoons of olive oil
1 quart of tomato juice (we think my Grandmom used a few cans of tomato sauce and equal amounts of water)
32 oz of beef stock
1 large onion, chopped
4 stalks of celery, chopped to 1 inch pieces
6-8 basil leaves, slivered (I just stacked them up and use scissors to cut them right into the soup)
1 bag of frozen mixed vegetables (carrots, corn, string beans, lima beans)
2 garlic cloves, chopped (don't use garlic powder...garlic is too good not to use whenever possible)
½ cup of regular barley (not the quick stuff)
Salt and pepper to taste

Coat the pot with olive oil and brown the short ribs on all sides. Deglaze the pot with some water and then add the other ingredients. Bring the mixture to a boil.  Reduce the heat and let the soup simmer for a good 4 hours.  Remove the ribs and pick the meat off of the bones.  Discard the bones, chop the meat and add it back to the soup. Serve with crusty Italian bread.

They say that just a sniff of something can evoke the sweetest memory and, as this soup was cooking, my house smelled just like my Grandmom’s house in Philadelphia on North 22nd Street and, for an instant, I was a kid again.  In the above photo we are standing in front of that very Philadelphia rowhouse in which I grew up ...notice my Grandmom's shoes...I remember them and recently bought a pair almost like them!  Since just the soup's aroma took me instantly back 45 years, I was hoping it would taste like Grandmom’s recipe…and you know what, it did!  Don't you just love when things like this work out!?  It was a little thicker than her version, but a little extra stock took care of that.  Plus, making this soup gave me another opportunity to use my beautiful, new yellow pot...that Grandmom would have loved!
I was elated but also a little sad while making this soup, if that makes any sense. I miss my Grandmother so much but take comfort in that I am named after her mother, Giovanna.  Of course, the name was translated to English and although she didn't mind the English translation, she would still call me Giovanna sometimes.  A cherished memory.

If my siblings or Italian cousins are reading this post, please make this soup.  It will take you immediately back to those wonderful days on North 22nd Street and Grandmom sitting on the cement landing in her green and white woven beach chair, minding her garden, talking to neighbors in broken English, and watching the world go by.

1 comment:

The Baby Boomer said...

Memories of Grandmom always warm my heart. I feel so blessed that we were able to share our childhood with her.